Men stress women out more than kids, says new study - relationship expert and parents share their thoughts

Although a stereotypical trope, it doesn't have to be

Exasperated woman with husband in the background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Men cause more stress for mothers than their children, according to a new study. Here’s what a relationship expert and some parents have to say about it, plus tips for reducing this stress.

There's no doubt that women face numerous challenges. For mothers, the complex process of matrescence —a transitional period where they adjust to significant changes in their lives and bodies— begins with giving birth. This seismic shift often comes with the added burden of carrying the bulk of the mental load, which can lead to parenting burnout

So it's probably unsurprising that a study carried out by Today of over 7,000 mothers asked to report their stress levels, gave the average stress level of 8.5 out of 10 per mum. Their biggest reported stressor? Their partners. For 46 per cent of those mums, partners are a bigger source of stress than kids. This is quite a stereotypical trope in a relationship, that a male partner will be the cause of endless irritation. The parents we spoke to often reported this to be the case in line with the study. We also spoke to a therapist who shared ways to move forward.

Georgina Sturmer is a BACP registered counsellor who specialises in helping women be happy and confident in their relationships. Georgina tells us, "When it comes to a husband and wife, or any model of co-parenting, the dynamic can feel like shifting sands. Like an imbalanced power struggle. Maybe we oscillate between ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’. Perhaps we can’t agree on how to parent. 

"Maybe there’s simmering anger or resentment about pulling our weight in household tasks. Or in decisions around money, home life, socialising and much more. There are so many potential triggers for disagreement, and we are often tired or overwhelmed by the physical or mental load of everything that needs to get done. And this sometimes means that instead of finding our co-parent supportive, we can actually feel as if they are simply adding an extra weight to our lives."

"There are so many potential triggers for disagreement, and we are often tired or overwhelmed by the physical or mental load of everything that needs to get done. And this sometimes mean that instead of finding our co-parent supportive, we can actually feel as if they are simply adding an extra weight to our lives."

Georgina Sturmer, counsellor

The study also found mothers stress most about not having enough time to get everything done, with three-quarters of mums with partners reporting they do most of the parenting and household duties. One in five say not having enough help from their partner is a huge source of daily stress.

Mum-of-two, Lucy, agrees with this. She says, "I work from home and my husband works between home and an office. He always finishes before me and appears to work fewer hours. It never ceases to amaze me how he can walk in and ignore washing to be put away, a dishwasher that needs loading, recycling to put out, and every other job. I shouldn't have to spell it out for him, he's a grown man. Instead, I simmer with rage most days when I put down my laptop one minute and go straight to the kitchen the next, without pausing for breath before doing all the tasks he could easily have done." 

Mum-of-three, Kate, feels similarly. She shares, "When my husband took a job that meant he'd be away a lot, I was relieved. Honestly, life was just much easier without him in the house. I tried engaging him with household tasks - every job he left for me to do that he could've easily done himself, I left a sticky note on saying 'up yours Kate.' Because that's what leaving those jobs for me meant - that he didn't care enough about me or respect me enough to do them. He was embarrassed and attempted to do better, but now he's away most of the time I get on with everything and not having to look after him is one less burden."

Georgina tells us these feelings can be navigated, and there are ways to move forward. 

What to do if your partner stresses you out

  • Getting to grips with what’s happening. Georgina shares, "There’s a common trope of one parent moaning about the other one. Maybe it’s the dishwasher, late nights, or spending money. And some of this might be playful banter. But if you’re feeling anxious or annoyed or angry on a regular basis, get to grips with what’s really happening. Is it how a specific task is done? Or is it a general issue with your relationship? Or you might also discover that other aspects of life are filtering in and giving you a sense of anger or irritation and that some of this then leads you to focus it towards your co-parent. When we untangle what’s annoying us, it helps us to make sense of what we’re feeling.  
  • Communication. Georgina adds, "Once we know what’s bothering us, the next step is to consider how we communicate this. And that might sound frightening. But you’re probably already doing it, albeit in less healthy ways. The silent treatment, slamming doors, talking over each other. Imagine what it would be like to calmly and sensitively express how you are feeling. Use ‘I statements’ to express what you are feeling, rather than making it feel like an attack on the other person.  
  • Be open to feedback. "It’s one thing to understand what’s going on and to start talking," Georgina continues, adding, "But another part of this is to acknowledge that our co-parent might have something to say too. And that in order to move forward, we need to be open to their constructive feedback too. 
  • Remember to enjoy each other. When we have children, it’s easy to lose a sense of who we are. Our identity becomes subsumed by that of a mother, a father, a parent whose job it is to look after our children. It’s so important to retain a sense of our own identity. And that goes for the ‘identity’ of our relationship too. To remember the things that we enjoy about each other, to have fun together, to think about date nights and intimacy, even when these things need to go on the back burner for a period of time."

For more on relationships and motherhood, we share the daily habit that could be killing your relationship, and why some people turn to emotional cheating. We also have some tips to help you fancy your partner again, if you want to bring back a bit of spark to your partnership.

Georgina Sturmer
Georgina Sturmer

Georgina Sturmer is a BACP registered counsellor who helps women to understand what is holding them back from being happier and more confident and resilient in their life and relationships.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.